Plenty of hot air, but show us the evidence

July 07, 2017

The recent statements by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists about the failure of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan are perplexing and risky.

Last week the group offered a range of opinions, chief of which was that the water delivered under the plan had not resulted in any overall improvement in the condition of basin river systems.

The argument goes that after five years of water recovery and half the $13billion spent, there is not much to show.

The Wentworth Group acknowledges ‘‘local improvements’’ to river quality, salinity and fish habitat.

The group has been referring to a report that it has apparently compiled but not released to the public, and which we may not see for months.

According to a summary released last week, the group has conducted a review of the plan and identified five actions which should be taken, including committing to a regional development plan, guaranteeing recovery of 3200Gl and ensuring that the water recovered achieves intended improvements.

We would love to see how the group has arrived at its views, but unfortunately the review is not available so the evidence, upon which last week’s statement is based, cannot be examined or tested.

So, irrigators, residents, and other stakeholders in the basin are left with a range of interesting opinions but not much in the way of facts to back them up.

In contrast there is some information available to the public which supports counter arguments to the group.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder points to improvements for native fish, birds, frogs and riverine habitat across a range of river systems, including the Loddon, Edwards-Wakool and Goulburn-Broken.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has also compiled some evidence of improved outcomes for the rivers.

This year the authority has commissioned a report into how improvements to flows and connectivity are helping to stop the decline of ecosystem health.

So what are irrigators and farmers to make of this recent burst of publicity from the Wentworth Group?

If billions of dollars have been spent and there is little outcome, why bother spending any more?

Can we really expect basin-wide outcomes after just five years of the plan?

Doesn’t the varied, wide ranging ‘‘local’’ outcomes add up to basin-wide improvements?

What evidence does the Wentworth Group actually have to back-up its assertions?

We would all like some answers from the group, otherwise, last week’s pronouncements will be consigned to the social media category: Interesting, but just emotion and politics.

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